Howard opposes Bishop's call for ban on headscarves for Muslim women in Australia.
30 Aug 2005
The Prime Minister grinned as the pint-sized singers, many of whom were wearing the garment recently labelled an "iconic item of defiance", sung the theme to Australia's iconic soapie.
"With a little understanding you can find the perfect blend," went the lyrics to Neighbours, belted out by the Muslim students at Al-Faisal College, Auburn, for their guest of honour.
Outside the Islamic school, where Mr Howard was opening a new building, representatives from all political sides accused one of his backbenchers, Bronwyn Bishop, of showing no understanding.
Mr Howard said he opposed Mrs Bishop's push to ban Muslim girls from wearing headscarves at public schools because it would be impractical. But he defended Ms Bishop's "right to express a view".
Mrs Bishop has called the headscarf "a sort of iconic item of defiance", and echoed the call of the Victorian Liberal MP Sophie Panopoulos for a ban. Mrs Bishop's remark prompted much criticism, including a rebuke from the NSW Minister for Education, Carmel Tebbutt, who yesterday ruled out any change to the uniform policy, which allows schools to develop a dress code in consultation with the community. She said she supported the right of students to wear the headscarf as long as it was within the school code.
Mr Howard said: "I don't think it's practical to bring in such a prohibition. If you ban a headscarf you might for consistency's sake have to ban a yarmulke or a turban."
He said he could understand why "people might be affronted by a full coverage including the face. I don't think that is desirable."
However, Labor's education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, said Mr Howard had not gone far enough in opposing the MPs. "John Howard must show leadership and pull [them] into line over their calls. We need national leadership ... not extremist knee-jerk reactions."
The federal Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, John Cobb, said Mrs Bishop's comments were ignorant and an insult to many Australians. In a statement he said: "The government does not seek to impose cultural sameness on Australians ... Do we ban nuns from wearing a habit?"